I gave a talk on photography last Thursday at the Chenghuang Temple in Taipei. I was expecting few people to show up, as it was the first day of a four-day weekend, and it was raining. I was wrong; the place was packed. I didn’t promote the talk at all, so I can’t explain how so many people came. I had too much material to get through, so I didn’t get to a lot of what I wanted to say, but it seemed to go well. Nonetheless, I needed to get away afterwards, and Spring Scream, where the Muddy Basin Ramblers were schedule this year, was just the ticket.
Sandman and I took the bullet train south at noon on Friday, the second day of the Tomb-sweeping holiday. Sandman had had his doubts about the trip, but was feeling better once we were rolling and drinking and commenting on the scenery. Kaohsiung appeared in a flash of conversation, and the other Ramblers, sans Thumper, were waiting for us in a restaurant downstairs from the station. We were going to take a bus, but a man was hawking his van, which seemed reasonable at NT$2,500 until we realized that his “van” was actually a Toyota Wish. Somehow, we managed to cram all of our gear and all six of us into the small station wagon, David crammed in the back and me with the tub in my lap, before we set off.
It’s a couple of hours from Kaohsiung to Kenting, where Spring Scream was being held for the 19th year. I’d never been to Spring Scream, as it has always existed in that realm of older foreigners that I never partook of, along with old bars and other expat joints that I’d heard of but never visited. The Ramblers had never played at Spring Scream either, and we felt this was the year to change all that. I hadn’t been in Kenting for years, and I was surprised at all the new development: Hotels, b&bs, restaurants, go-kart tracks, etc. We spilled out of the Wish at the Uni-President Hotel, the only real hotel in walking distance of Oluanpi Lighthouse Park, where the music festival was being held. It was hot and muggy, and though the hotel pool beckoned, we had to trek down to the festival to check in. This involved showing ID, signing our names, and getting a forearm tattoo as well as a chip on a bracelet to pay for things with. This chip had to be bought, and adding money cost money, as well as refunding money. There’s nothing about this that doesn’t indicate it’s a racket.
Spring Scream consisted of two main areas, separated by a winding path lit with LED lights. The first area had a couple of stages and long rows of food/drink/tattoo/handicraft stands, a big screen for Urban Nomad films, etc., and the second area held several stages and a few stands for handicrafts and tattoos and beer. Most of the bands sounded the same, so I spent a bit of time in one area before getting bored and going to the other area. I had some pizza from the Alleycats Stand, and talked with some people. The beer was apparently supplied by Bear Beer, but I have to say the place was a bit bear-deficient. I only saw a handful of actual bears, one of them limping. At night our friend Louis got on the big screen with a Skype session and played some music at us, which was cool and tech-y. David and I trekked back up the path to the road to find a long line of taxis well after midnight, while Conor and Slim came back much later. Our room was a split-level affair, so everyone had a place to sleep, even if it was the floor in Slim’s case. A thunderstorm arose in the night, heavy rain and lightning pounding the window. I was grateful that I wasn’t one of those poor souls camping out in a tent.
It was still raining on Saturday morning, and I bought some sandals to wear as I was afraid of ruining my shoes in the inevitable sea of mud that was the festival grounds by this point. The hotel’s breakfast wasn’t bad, though they were closing down by the time we straggled down to the basement to partake of what was left. A small girl at the next table stared at Slim with an expression of utmost disappointment on her little face. She didn’t look at Conor or me, just at Slim, as if he was far from meeting her expectations. Conor and Slim returned to their slumbering, but we got up for an impromptu practice behind the hotel, bringing several staff members out, not to complain, but to say how much they liked the music. I can understand how desperate they are for good music, as the hotel tends to play elevator music in the halls all the time. Thumper showed up as we ground through the pieces, having rented a car and driven down from Kaohsiung with his wife. The thunderstorm had brought cooler weather, and the pool didn’t seem so inviting now.
But we had to be back down at the festival, with our instruments this time, as we were scheduled to play at five. There was no lying about on the grass this time, as everything was wet, and the path between the two areas was a river of mud. Our well-traveled friend Alita, who wrote so enthusiastically about our appearance at SS this year in the TT last weekend, was wearing her signature wings, which were rather damp. Everything was rather damp, but when we finally got on stage after the previous two bands went long, we made everyone forget it was raining. Or, at least until a large gust of storm reminded us. It was a great, high-energy show, and the audience was really into it, even dancing in the mud, somehow. Thumper was recording everything on the Go-pro camera mounted on his head.
The management signaled that we had five minutes, and everyone looked at their watches, puzzled, as we still had much more than that. However, they were apparently trying to get back on schedule by cutting down our time, even though we had more people listening to us than any other band had up to that point. It was not a little reminiscent of our last appearance at Peacefest, and there was a reason it was our last appearance. That was also a very muddy experience.
Still, it was a great show while it lasted. We were mobbed by people wanting to buy our album when we got off the stage, which was nice, and we all walked around in a little glow until we realized that it was still raining and colder still. David lent me a jacket, but I was still chilled and rather bored with walking back and forth between the two areas in my now-muddy sandals. I sat and watched a documentary on Jimmy Carter and the Oil Crisis until another deluge forced everyone to take cover. By around 10:30 I’d had enough and decided to go back to the hotel for a nap and a warm shower, taking the tub and stick with me. I intended to come back for a midnight jam, so I left my trumpet there, but after a nap and talking with Thumper in his room for a couple of hours, I decided I didn’t feel like facing that muddy path again that night. Apparently cops shut everything down at midnight, but that didn’t stop Conor and Slim from staying until 5 a.m.
Breakfast on Sunday morning was good, and though Slim was able, thanks to the magic of electrolytes, to come eat breakfast, Conor was unable to rouse himself to such lofty ambitions. Thumper had already eaten, so it was just David, Sandman, Slim and myself. The disappointed girl was not present; perhaps she’d seen the show and changed her mind.
We had all heard the horror tales of traffic back to Kaohsiung following Spring Scream, so we tried to get a somewhat early start. I rode in the back of Thumper’s rental, while the rest took a taxi. A gaggle of expensive sports cars was blocking traffic on the road north, driving very slowly so as to clear out traffic ahead of them for some miles, whereupon they would drive very fast on the empty roads they had created. It was an incredible display of asshattery, proving that it’s ok to crap on other people as long as you’re 1) rich and 2) together with other rich people.
Traffic richtrolling aside, the drive was smooth, and Thumper dropped me off in front of Pingtung Train Station. From there I walked around town a bit, having lunch at Mos Burger, visiting a few temples and chatting with an elderly couple about an old Japanese-era ruin that had once been a luxury residence by the river. Oddly enough, there was a pile of ten-NT coins on the ledge of one of the windows, and they couldn’t explain this, saying that it definitely wasn’t haunted, as couples often went there for wedding photos. I walked around the neighborhood behind the train station and back around to the front, where I bought a ticket to Xin Zuoying. I was glad to rest my tired feet while watching the scenery roll by as the daylight faded.
At Zuoying, I consulted my schedule and decided I had enough time for another stroll, so I walked down to the nearby lake and sat watching the lights of the city reflected on the water. It was very pleasant, and I was surprised at how low-rent the undoubtedly convenient area between the train/HSR/Metro station and the lake still seemed. Hardly anyone was about on the streets as I walked back to the massive station complex, which resembles a space station compared to the modest neighborhood around it. I had a sandwich and salad while charging my phone, and then headed upstairs and then down again to board my 8:30 train. The trip was spent dozing, mostly, and Thumper was waiting downstairs from the Water Curtain Cave with my instruments, which he had graciously offered to bring up in the car so I wouldn’t be burdened with them between trains.
The Ramblers are working on our second album these days, and it’s a project that will take us most of the summer, most likely, but we’ll have a few shows here and there as well. It was great to get out of town and get a change of scenery, especially after working hard on preparing and giving the photography talk last week, but it’s also good to be back.